Data from: A hierarchical distance sampling model to estimate abundance and covariate associations of species and communities
Sollmann, Rahel et al. (2016), Data from: A hierarchical distance sampling model to estimate abundance and covariate associations of species and communities, Dryad, Dataset, https://doi.org/10.5061/dryad.gb905
Distance sampling is a common survey method in wildlife studies, because it allows accounting for imperfect detection. The framework has been extended to hierarchical distance sampling (HDS), which accommodates the modelling of abundance as a function of covariates, but rare and elusive species may not yield enough observations to fit such a model. We integrate HDS into a community modelling framework that accommodates multi-species spatially replicated distance sampling data. The model allows species-specific parameters, but these come from a common underlying distribution. This form of information sharing enables estimation of parameters for species with sparse data sets that would otherwise be discarded from analysis. We evaluate the performance of the model under varying community sizes with different species-specific abundances through a simulation study. We further fit the model to a seabird data set obtained from shipboard distance sampling surveys off the East Coast of the USA. Comparing communities comprised of 5, 15 or 30 species, bias of all community-level parameters and some species-level parameters decreased with increasing community size, while precision increased. Most species-level parameters were less biased for more abundant species. For larger communities, the community model increased precision in abundance estimates of rarely observed species when compared to single-species models. For the seabird application, we found a strong negative association of community and species abundance with distance to shore. Water temperature and prey density had weak effects on seabird abundance. Patterns in overall abundance were consistent with known seabird ecology. The community distance sampling model can be expanded to account for imperfect availability, imperfect species identification or other missing individual covariates. The model allowed us to make inference about ecology of species communities, including rarely observed species, which is particularly important in conservation and management. The approach holds great potential to improve inference on species communities that can be surveyed with distance sampling.